Evelina Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Letter XXII – Volume I, Letter XXXI


Evelina continues to write to Mr. Villars of her adventures. Mrs. Mirvan spoke with Evelina, telling her how Lord Orville had reprimanded Mr. Lovel for his behavior at the opera. Evelina feels relieved to learn this, and praises the "quiet courage" of Lord Orville.

At a dinner to which she was invited, Madame Duval scolded Evelina for two hours about her rudeness in leaving the opera. The conversation then turned to the party's plans to leave London. Madame Duval did not like this turn of events, and argued Evelina should stay in London. It was finally decided that Madame Duval would return with them to Howard Grove to continue spending time with her granddaughter. Though this alternative pleased no one, there was no other viable option.

Evelina continues her letters, writing about her final adventures in London. The group spent some time at the Pantheon; Evelina admired the architecture. Sir Clement Willoughby was there, and Evelina was struck how by little embarrassment he showed over his behavior on the evening of the opera. Lord Orville and Mr. Lovel were also there, and Evelina was glad that the latter fellow no longer troubled her.

The party went to tea while in that vicinity, and Evelina noticed another gentleman at Lord Orville's table who stared at her for the entire duration of tea-time. (He is Lord Merton, though this name is not given until much later). She was startled to learn that he was a Lord; it is unfathomable that one of his rank could be so rude. The men at the table discussed the beauty of the building. The Captain, coarse as ever, teased Mr. Lovel about having not known what the play was about a few nights before. The young women were asked if they liked the opera, and though they replied in the affirmative, they were quickly shamed into silence when the Captain derided them for their opinions. The Captain also criticized Cox's Museum and Ranelagh, which surprised the company.

Lord Merton, whose name Evelina does not yet procure, jested and teased her in a vulgar manner throughout the evening. When it was time for him and his party to depart, he insisted that Maria and Evelina attend. They declined the invitation, and Evelina was dismayed by the "great liberty in this Lord, notwithstanding his rank, to treat me so freely." They insisted that they wished to return home.

Several of the ladies tripped gaily away to their next event, but the Lord stayed behind to pay profuse compliments to Evelina. This annoyed her, especially because Lord Orville was speaking gravely to Mrs. Mirvan, and she wished to know what he said. It seemed that he was displeased with the particular attention the Lord paid to Evelina.

In her letter, Evelina ruminates on the differences between men of rank. Some are like Lord Orville, with a "politeness that knows no intermission," while others like Lord Merton seem to lack all good breeding.

Everyone was in low spirits when they returned to the house. However, to their surprise, Lord Orville arrived soon after them to pay his respects before they left for the country. Sir Clement also arrived, and Evelina was piqued when the Captain offered him a visit to Howard Grove.

Mr. Villars next writes to Evelina, advising that the nobleman (Lord Merton) is far less dangerous than Sir Clement because the latter "contrives to avoid all appearance of intentional evil. He is far more dangerous, because more artful..." He expresses his approbation of Lord Orville. He almost regrets permitting her to visit London, since her guileless and innocent nature is not fit for such environs.

Evelina writes back to describe her experiences at Howard Grove, lamenting how Madame Duval and the Captain have ruined this once peaceful place. They quarrel violently and constantly. Lady Howard, however, was gracious and kind in welcoming them back.

In another letter, she writes of an altogether shocking proposal made by Madame Duval, who believes they should attempt to legally prove Evelina's birthright and thereby procure the inheritance she is owed by her father Sir John Belmont. Madame Duval believes Evelina has a grand future waiting, and that the girl should spend time in Paris. As Evelina puts it, Madame Duval "had it in her head to make something of me, and that they should soon call me by another name than that of Anville." This scheme had been instigated by the Branghtons.

This plan caused great disturbance in the family. The only person who approved was Lady Howard. Evelina, for her part, is saddened about this indifferent father, and is little inclined to confront him, especially through legal means and for the purpose of money.

Lady Howard next writes to Mr. Villars, explaining why she approves of Madame Duval's plan. She explains that "your lovely charge, now first entering into life, has merit which ought not to be buried in obscurity." Though Mr. Villars does not agree, Lady Howard writes to Paris anyway, in hopes that her letter will reach Sir John Belmont.


Evelina continues to encounter a world in which social recognition is ironically disconnected from true human value. Lord Merton, though yet unnamed, is a total cad, more forward than anyone has yet been with her, and yet his name is more valuable than even Lord Orville's. Sir Clement remains a threat to her, mostly because, as Mr. Villars wisely indicates, he keeps his intentions hidden. Despite his social standing, his actions are insidious, and he is entirely oblivious to the constant threat this poses to the women he professes to care for. And the plan proposed by Madame Duval is shaped as one meant to ensure social respectability, but is actually motivated almost entirely by greed. The life of these aristocrats is full of pettiness and selfishness, which is one of the main reasons Evelina is at such odds with it.

And yet she remains transfixed by the luxuries and entertainments of London, most likely because Burney herself was. Modern readers may not know the Pantheon in England; it was a public assembly room located in Oxford Street, and was known as the "winter Ranelagh." It held winter balls, masquerades and concerts, all of which were very popular with the fashionable set. Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell visited the site not long after it opened in 1772, but they preferred Ranelagh. Boswell's Life of Johnson relates how they argued whether anyone there was actually happy, and Dr. Johnson said, "Yes, Sir, there are many happy people here. There are many people here who are watching hundreds, and who think hundreds are watching them."

Captain Mirvan is one of Burney's most distasteful creations; he is misogynist, xenophobic, ill-bred, loud, vulgar, and frequently cruel. However, his opinions are merely exaggerations of a very real social pressure that women faced. In this set of letters, he voices his opinion that fashionable and educated young women neglect their traditional, natural domestic duties in favor of frivolous diversions. In her annotations to the Oxford World's Classics edition of the novel, Vivien Jones comments, "Whereas most eighteenth century commentators are more likely to see a different education as the solution, Captain Mirvan's appeal is to violence and the law." He believes that Evelina and Maria's opinions are valueless, and thus shames them into silence. This silence represents the role women were forced to play in the 18th century; they possessed no identity of their own, and were placed under their father/guardian/husband's aegis in all respects.

Mr. Villars, in contrast, remains an extremely positive force in Evelina's life. While he is deliberately vocal in his opinions for his young charge, he does not deny her what she asks, and praises her strength of character. Again, this kindness can be attributed to his separation from society; because he willfully avoids the world, he is not polluted by its forces. Of course, it is telling that he never enters the action of the novel, since it suggests the rather unrealistic nature of such a man. He serves more as a counterpoint than as an actual solution to the problems suggested in the narrative.

Near the close of this first volume, Evelina is horrified to discover her grandmother's plan to confront her father and force her inheritance. She is more driven by fear and grief than by greed. One of those fears is that it would entail acting outside of her prescribed gender roles. Mr. Villars, ever the traditionalist, agrees, writing how this plan is antipathetic to female delicacy. The public scrutiny that would follow from a lawsuit would violate the conduct-book tradition of limited female presence in the public eye. Consider what John Gregory wrote in a contemporary guidebook: "one of the chief beauties in a female character, is that of modest reserve, that retiring delicacy, which avoids the public eye, and is disconcerted even at the gaze of admiration."

One of the implicit arguments against such limitations is the work itself. Though she had to publish the work anonymously, any audience who eventually realized she was a woman would be surprised not only by her accomplishment, but by her cleverness and erudition. Consider an allusion made to John Locke in this set of letters. Mr. Villars makes a particularly erudite comment in describing his disapprobation of the lawsuit plan to Lady Howard: he writes that "As soon as I would discuss the effect of sound with the deaf, or the nature of colors with the blind, as aim at illuminating with conviction a mind so warped by prejudice, so much the slave of unruly and illiberal passions." In using this example as an analogy for meaninglessness, he is referring to the ideas of John Locke, as expressed in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Vivien Jones comments on this allusion in her annotations, "ideas are not innate and can only be developed on the basis of physical stimuli, therefore the names of colours or sounds to the blind or deaf would be examples of words, which are, in his words, 'not intelligible at all'." Burney's effortless use of such erudite and complicated examples evidence her abilities.